Ruiz and friends send England home: how Stats Zone saw Italy 0-1 Costa Rica
Recife was the setting for Italy and Costa Rica’s first ever World Cup meeting, the two having previously played each other only in a 1994 friendly (typically, the Azzurri won 1-0).
This game had much more riding on it: victory for either side would guarantee their progress to the second round, and a draw would see England knocked out with a match to spare.
Italy made three changes to their line-up, despite having beaten England 2-1 with the highest pass completion ever seen in a post-1966 World Cup game (93%). As expected, captain Gianluigi Buffon replaced Salvatore Sirigu in nets having recovered from injury, but also coming into the side were Thiago Motta and Ignazio Abate, in place of 21-year-old midfielder Marco Verratti and gloriously balding centre-back Gabriel Paletta. Giorgio Chiellini shuffled over to a more natural centre-back position, with Matteo Darmian moving from right to left.
In a bid to prevent this report being too long, Costa Rica named an unchanged XI from their 3-1 win over Uruguay.
The first 10 minutes were a quiet affair, in which Costa Rica made most of the running and Celso Borges headed over from a corner.
After 20 minutes, there had still been little goalmouth action. Costa Rica had seen 61% of the ball - but mostly in their own half.
Italy's line-up implied a preference for midfield solidity over attacking flair, and so it proved. With the Azzurri's central midfielders taking up deep positions, Mario Balotelli found himself extremely isolated up front.
The striker did then have 2 good chances in quick succession, both coming from Andrea Pirlo making clipped first-time passes over the defence - the first of which was almost disgracefully perfect.
Costa Rica then got back into the match, Oscar Duarte heading over after being left in space the size of a reputable village. Meanwhile, Balotelli was alternating between being offside and being tackled, trying to beat defenders with the ball.
Controversy reared its predictable head when Joel Campbell had a stonewall penalty turned down, having been clumsily barged over in the box by Chiellini, but it didn't matter: minutes later, Bryan Ruiz headed home a wonderful deep cross by Junior Diaz.
At half-time the score was not what people expected and certainly not what either Italian or English fans wanted: 1-0 to Costa Rica. They'd had more shots than Italy, too, refusing to be intimidated by the favourites.
Los Ticos had had particular success with their crosses, finding a team-mate with more than half of them and creating a genuine goalscoring opportunity with a third. In comparison, the Italians had put in only one cross all half.
Italy had been forced deep for much of the first 45, both by their opponents and their own ponderous passing.
They weren't finding it easy to get the ball to their lone striker, thanks to Costa Rica putting in plenty of tackles, preventing the Azzurri from passing or dribbling past players.
For the second half, looking to give Balotelli some support in search of an equaliser, Cesare Prandelli brought on Antonio Cassano to partner him in attack. It was unsurprising that a midfielder made way, but Thiago Motta was unlucky to get the hook: he created the most chances of any Italian player in the first half, completed every one of his passes and even after 75 minutes, when he'd been off the pitch for half an hour, De Rossi to Motta was still the most popular pass combination.
Balotelli had a penalty appeal turned down as Costa Rica continued to put in firm tackles and actually conceded more fouls: Ruiz had made 5 fouls in the first 55 minutes, yet escaped without a booking.
No other player had made more than 2 transgressions in that time. Somehow, Christian Bolanos topped that by the end of the game, making 6 fouls across 90 minutes - and not being shown a card.
Italy's players, meanwhile, were hardly missing a tackle.
Lorenzo Insigne was brought on to add attacking impetus, but in his first 10 minutes on the pitch, he attempted more take-ons and was caught offside more often than he made passes to a team-mate. Cassano was more involved.
As the match entered its final stages, and England fans bit their nails, hands and forearms, Italy never really threatened Keylor Navas' goal. Cassano and Balotelli passed to each other once in the whole of the second half.
The full-time whistle came, and Costa Rica players celebrated wildly. They'd done something absolutely nobody could have predicted: beaten both Uruguay and Italy to progress out of Group D, with England still to face. It was a merited victory: across the game they defended with passion but also created more chances than their opponents.
Particularly impressive was left-back Junior Diaz, who contributed the assist for Ruiz's all-important goal but also blocked cross after cross as Italy looked to get back on level terms, and made 4 tackles and 8 ball recoveries.
Italy were dreadfully ill-disciplined in attack, caught offside on no fewer than 11 occasions, many of them avoidable.
Succeeding with 89% of their attempted passes, Italy ended up with a very high pass completion, as they had against England, but without much in the way of penetration.
The Azzurri go into their final group match against Uruguay needing at least a draw to go through. Is it possible that Prandelli could drop Balotelli for that crucial encounter? The manager had threatened before the match that Mario would not be undroppable, and his performance dwindled dramatically in the second half here.
In the first 45 he buzzed into good positions, missing an excellent chance and attacking defenders at every opportunity, attempting 7 take-ons. After the interval, he tried to dribble past an opponent only once, and troubled the Costa Rican defence far less often.
Facts and figures
- Italy have conceded a goal in their last 7 World Cup matches after keeping clean sheets in 5 of their preceding 6 games.
- Italy have kept 4 clean sheets in their last 16 World Cup group stage matches.
- This match contained 14 offsides, the most in a game in this tournament.
- Italy contributed 11 of these, meaning they have been caught offside 18 times in this tournament, 9 more than any other team.
- Andrea Pirlo attempted 33 passes in the first half of this match. He attempted 70 before half-time against England.
- European teams have only won 1 of their last 5 matches in this tournament.
- Italy failed to score for the first time in 16 World Cup matches, ending the longest such run of a team taking part in World Cup 2014.
- Costa Rica have won consecutive World Cup matches for the first time.
- Costa Rica have scored in 9 of their last 10 World Cup games.
- Italy have failed to win their second match in any of the last four World Cup tournaments (D2 L2).